Nearly 1.3 million elementary school students in Florida are a major step closer to being guaranteed 20 minutes of recess every school day after the state Senate unanimously endorsed the concept Tuesday.
The easy win for SB 78 — sponsored by Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores — comes one year after chamber leaders wouldn’t even consider the idea.
Now that it’s the House holding up the daily requirement with attempts to scale it back, Flores said she hoped the Senate’s vote would “send a strong message” to the House that senators “feel strongly that if we’re going to have recess, it should be actual recess.”
Requiring daily recess in elementary schools is overwhelmingly favored by parents who have lobbied aggressively for the change in Florida law. It’s also supported by a majority of state lawmakers.
But the effort still faces a potential repeat of 2016 — when the proposal stalled over a single lawmaker’s opposition.
Last session, the recess legislation passed the House two votes shy of a unanimous result, but there was a blockade in the Senate. Although several senators wanted to vote on the measure, then-Pre-K-12 education chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, wouldn’t hear the bill in committee because he personally didn’t think the state should impose another mandate on school districts.
MORE: The Florida House doesn’t want to give elementary school students daily recess
Now, it’s the Senate that overwhelmingly favors the proposal — and at least almost half the House still does, too — but one powerful House member could stand in the way.
Miami Republican Rep. Michael Bileca, the current House education policy chairman, opposes the legislative mandate, as Legg did. Bileca — one of the two “no” votes last year — has said repeatedly he wants school districts to decide for themselves to change their recess policies.
Parents argue a statewide mandate is necessary, because they say most district school boards haven’t listened to their pleas. They want daily recess so their 5- to 11-year-olds can get a break during the school day.
“This bill is here as a result of moms from across the state having to listen to their children come home — their 7-year-old son come home — and say, ‘Mom, I’m so tired. I hate going to school; I hate going to school because there’s nothing for me to look forward to,’ ” Flores said. “This was a real grassroots effort of moms from across the state, saying: ‘Can you please help? Can you please be the voice in Tallahassee that I can’t be?’ ”
Daily recess — separate from P.E. — is recommended by national health and physical education experts, who have found it improves concentration, reduces disruptive behavior and teaches children social skills.
Last week, members of a House education subcommittee were poised to consider a recess bill identical to the Senate’s, but they immediately watered it down. Their revised bill would ditch any daily mandate, allow schools to blend P.E. with recess time and cut off guaranteed recess from more than 430,000 fourth- and fifth-graders in Florida.
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